Remote work is the new normal. Companies are turning to remote work in droves. There are thousands of resources about how to work efficiently from home, but there are three things I find missing from most of them: collaboration, community, and connection.
The average American spends eight-plus hours at work every day. That’s eight hours of socializing, collaboration, and intellectual competition. Work is not just a place we go to accomplish tasks. It’s a community. For close-knit communities, it can be a second family. Suddenly, that’s been stripped away from many, and we’re starving for the human element of work.
While nothing can replace face-to-face connection, businesses can use technology to help maintain an emotional and intellectual connection among colleagues while they’re working from home.
How To Optimize Collaboration In A Remote Work Environment
Working from home can feel like working in a very cushy bubble. The kitchen is always open, and wearing pajama pants to work just became fair game. On the other side of the coin, email inboxes overflow while live interaction decreases. Most working hours we’re staring silently at screens.
However, humans are deeply social. Facial expressions can put us at ease, fill gaps in understanding, and help us collaborate faster and more deeply.
Online web conference tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Google Hangouts, UberConference, Microsoft Teams and others can bolster collaboration while teams are working remotely.
How Remote Teams Can Maintain Emotional Connections And A Sense of Community
Soft skills have just become a thousand times more important. Here’s how leaders can use those soft skills to deepen relationships and nurture a remote community.
1. Spread Positivity
Now more than ever, it’s easy to get caught up in negativity. This can make it hard to focus and can strain relationships, which tends to have a ripple effect. Thankfully, HR reps, team leaders and management are well equipped to stem the tide. How? Something as simple as a joke of the day or a positive new chat board can help lead team members into a more positive mindset.
2. Socialize Virtually
For many, casual office friendships are a huge part of social life, and they may feel as if they’ve been put on hold. However, social distancing doesn’t have to mean distance from social life. Like everything else right now, the way we socialize is evolving and going remote. Try a playing JEOPARDY!® game on your next conference call with our Online Group Play™ feature. Or make it a JEOPARDY!® happy hour (BYOB)!
The web conference tools mentioned above aren’t just for collaboration — they’re excellent for socializing too. Teams looking to foster a sense of community may consider trying virtual lunch breaks and virtual happy hours.
3. Stay Active Together
Regardless of fitness level, remote workers all face one common challenge: a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise makes people mentally healthier, not to mention physically healthier. Some remote workers are old pros at making health and fitness a priority, while some are just beginning.
Whatever the case, fitness challenges can help bring people together, even remotely. Here are a few options that work at all fitness levels:
My company has successfully implemented a step challenge using an app called Stridekick by MoveSpring. We circulate a leaderboard and celebrate high performers at the end of each day. We also created a virtual chat for everyone to share their step success stories (extra long or extra fast walks, etc.) and challenges (extra yummy scones).
Other companies have put into place a virtual yoga class for everyone to calm the nervous systems and focus their minds. This simply requires an experienced yoga teacher and a web conferencing tool.
4. Build Virtual Clubs
All companies, especially those with a creative or educational focus, can benefit from forming virtual clubs. Podcast discussion clubs — like a book club, without the time or monetary commitment — can bring a team together on an intellectual level. Movie buff clubs help teams bond by watching movies together and discussing them over Google Hangouts.
5. Foster Healthy Competition With Games
Colleagues who play competitive games have been shown to perform better, show more engagement, and feel more relaxed. This healthy competition fosters community and emotional connections in real-time and can inspire creativity and motivate a team.
Make Remote Work More Human
As the number of remote workers continues to grow, we need to pay special attention to our communities. That means cultivating relationships and reinventing how we socialize. It’s critical to engage your team from a distance. Whether the goal is training, team building, or collaboration, social connections are key for building stronger, healthier communities.
First Published for Forbes Human Resources Council by The Game Agency’s Head of Creative Strategy & Innovation Stephen Baer as a member of Forbes Councils Member